Cameron Stocks, Barrister at Hardwicke Chambers
So, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I'm Cameron, I'm a barrister at Hardwicke specialising in property and private client. My property work is a mix of commercial, residential and housing work and my private client work is mainly probate and inheritance, essentially disputes involving the validity of wills, misbehaving executors, trusts, etc.
In your experience, what is it like being out in the legal profession?
I'm going to start by saying, for me, it's been a joy. However, I think I do want to recognise that I'm in a really privileged position to be a white cis man in a predominantly white cis male profession. So I immediately had an advantage to "fit in." I also practise from an incredibly diverse set of chambers at Hardwicke, and I've always done so. I did my pupillage at Hardwicke and have continued to practice there for the last five years now. I actually came out to my colleagues in chambers, before I did to everyone at home. I was obviously worried about how family would react and whether I would be accepted and so I waited until I had my safety net in London, where I was comfortable at work and was out to my friends, to fall back on in case anything went wrong when I told my family. Brie Stevens-Hoare QC was my pupil supervisor for one of my seats during pupilage and she was my supervisor at the point in time when I decided to come out to my family. I remember vividly sitting with her on the Friday before I got the train home for the weekend and crying with worry and her reassuring me that everything would be okay. Throughout the weekend Brie was messaging me to check how everything had gone and to see if everything was okay. I was very lucky that I could then share my joy with her to let her know that everything was fine, I didn't get disowned and the world didn't implode.
I recognise now that I was very lucky to be surrounded by people who genuinely cared for me and were looking out for me during this time. I think the vital thing for me in being out in the legal profession is that it allows people to be their authentic selves and work to the best of their potential because that's certainly what worked for me. By lifting that weight off my shoulders during pupilage, it allowed me just to focus on the work and get tenancy rather than have the constant worry and fear of my personal life. Pupillage is hard enough without adding those concerns on top!
Were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality or gender identity on an application form? Or were you ever afraid to?
I never would have had to discuss this issue because I wasn't out when I applied for pupillage. However, I know that the majority of pupillage application forms have separate, anonymous, forms for diversity monitoring, so you can you can disclose it overtly without the worry that it might affect the application.
I know the concern that many people have is more to do with “indicators” on application forms which might identify their sexuality or gender identity. For example, saying that you are heavily involved in LGBT+ projects and organisations or have done extensive writing on the topic.
However, my personal view, as somebody who interviews and reads application forms, is that these indicators are actually quite a good way to figure out whether the set you are applying to is inclusive and somewhere that you want to work. Genuinely diverse and inclusive sets, such as Hardwicke, are interested in seeing these things on your application and will ask about them in interview.
By including such indicators on your application, it will help you figure out whether the set takes its diversity credentials seriously and is welcoming of those who are actively involved in the diversity sphere, be they someone who identifies as LGBT+ or an ally.
As everyone knows, pupillages are really tough. It's really tough for the work alone, let alone being somewhere that you don't feel comfortable as a person. Therefore, I would be brave and include all that you do on your application form. It all comes back to the point about finding some where you can be your authentic self. That's only going to happen if you're honest with the organisation that you're applying to.
The next question, you've kind of answered the first bit already, but maybe you can talk about a second bit a bit more. Were you ever anxious to come out in a workplace? And do you ever feel anxious about coming out to new people in the workplace?
In relation to chambers, I would divide that down into two categories. The first being internally in chambers and the second being externally with clients.
As you can imagine, my first answer is a solid no, I haven't been anxious coming out in chambers. I never felt uncomfortable discussing my male partner, I've gone to pride with members of chamber and taken my partner along to chambers’ events. I’ve always felt comfortable in the knowledge that there are many role models in chambers who have tread that path before me and made it so that I didn't feel like I had to hide who I was in chambers.
As for the second part, being externally with clients. Yes, of course I've been nervous to discuss personal issues with clients. I think there's an element of nervousness to discussing anything personal with a client. For so many years, the traditional view has been that barristers are a nothing more than voice boxes and that you're just meant to go do your job and walk away from it. I understand that view but I don’t think it stands up to the reality of having to sit in a Court waiting room for 2+ hours with a client and running out of things to talk about professionally, inevitably conversation is going to turn to your holidays, hobbies and personal life. When I first started on my feet as a pupil, I would play the pronoun game and refer to “my partner” or “they” rather than referring to him by gender or name. However, once I became a tenant and lost the fear of not being kept on, I stopped caring about how I refer to my boyfriend in conversation. I just keep reminding myself that the results I get for my clients, as I like to think I’m somewhat ok at my job, have nothing to do with my sexuality or gender identity
Have you experienced any difficulties in your career because of your sexuality or gender identity? And it's a how did you overcome them?
I haven't had any overt difficulties and nothing that I could specifically point to but I do really pinpoint that largely down to the fact that I'm very privileged to be a white cis man in this profession. I think my experiences would have been very different had I been a person of color, a woman or identified as trans.
I also accept that my fortunate experiences are not shared by everyone. As has been mentioned in interviews previously, Professor Steven Vaughan and Marc Mason’s research a few years ago was really crucial in providing sobering statistics and anecdotes to demonstrate just how much more work we have to do to ensure we are welcoming and inclusive profession to all.
My advice to anyone dealing with these difficulties is that it is vitally important that LGBT+-phobic behaviour is called out, whether it's workplace “banter” or snide comments made by somebody. I completely accept that it is hard to call out this behaviour, especially when it comes from someone who is in a senior position or someone that you rely on for business. One bit of advice that I was given is to find someone to support you that is in a senior position so that they can shield you from any negative consequences and level the playing field whether that be your Head of Chambers, CEO, EDI officer or just a senior colleague.
Do you think the legal profession is done enough to ensure the support for their diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ plus employees? And if not, what more could be done?
The short answer is no, but it's making a very good attempt at it. I say that because I think that our part of the legal profession lags behind the others such as solicitors and legal executives. I think that’s in large part due to our organisational structures. Chambers aren't employers of members and we're effectively a loose rabble of people that are working together in one organisation for our collective benefit. As a result, it can take a lot more work in order to make real structural change, policies have to pass through various committees and there can often be a lot of bureaucracy in chambers.
I also think the Bar has been too focused on its members and not enough time has been spent considering the needs of its staff and all other people who work in the Bar community. As you as you know, I'm very involved in FreeBar and one of our core aims it to deal with everyone who works at and with the bar including Chambers staff, the Inns of Court, the Court Service, Bar associations, basically anyone that has any involvement with the Bar, rather than just barristers.
FreeBar also aims to increase visible inclusivity at the Bar in addition to structural change. As an example of one of our successes, we lobbied the BSB and managed to secure the lifting of the restriction on reporting diversity data within chambers. The effect of the previous restriction was in essence that if one person, however they identified, objected to the reporting of this data, chambers was prohibited from providing any statistics on sexual orientation at all.
In terms of what more can be done, FreeBar is about to launch its new charter which aims to provide concrete steps that chambers and other Bar organisations can take to improve inclusivity. These steps include simple things such as (a) ensuring that policies and procedures are written in gender neutral language as opposed to the masculine which has been used in the legal profession for centuries (b) providing gender neutral facilities for members, staff and visitors; and (c) ensuring the organisation has a transitioning policy so that it is proactive rather than reactive. Organisaitons will be able to self-declare compliance on websites and marketing material so that clients and potential applicants will be able to see how inclusive an organisation it is.
The work I get involved with as part of FreeBar is not aimed at preaching to the converted. We want to bring everyone in the profession along on this journey with us whether they identify as LGBT+, allies or the self-professed “dinosaurs” in the profession. Everyone needs to learn and develop together to ensure that the profession is truly inclusive for all.
Finally, I think that one of the most important things that we need to remember is that there is a lot of diversity within the LGBT+ community and that each diversity strand has its own struggles and needs. One size fits all policies are a start but do not go far enough in addressing the particular issues faced by the trans community, people of color or the double disadvantage of LGBT Women in the profession. We all need to recognise that the problem isn’t solved just because we may end up with more white, gay, cis males in the profession. We still have a long way to go.
I know Hardwicke and some other chambers have like LGBTQ plus networks at their chambers. Is it common at the bar to have an LGBT network in chambers?
No, it's really not common at all to have internal networks and I think this is due to numbers. Hardwicke is a large set of chambers and I think we’re one of the largest sets that is just based in London and doesn’t have annexes elsewhere. However, we only have around 90 barristers and another 50 or so staff. As a result, statistically you are only likely to have about a half a dozen or so members and staff who want to be involved in such a network.
One of the many reasons that FreeBar was established was to provide cohesion between sets who were heavily involved in diversity initiatives and to bring us all together into one group to make lasting change. As a result, we now have an organising group of around 10-15 people who meet to make decisions on how we should run and then a wider group of 500+ people who are sent our newsletters and invited to events.
Finally, what are three pieces of advice you'd give to aspiring LGBTQ plus legal professionals?
I've mentioned it a few times but my first piece of advice is to be your authentic self. I really can't stress it enough because it's the only way that you're going to be able to thrive in this profession. I realised shortly into my career that there's no one way to succeed at the bar. Take advocacy as an example, everyone has a different style. Some people are instructed to be ferocious commercial litigators, other people are instructed for their forensic analysis and others are instructed because they enjoy and can deal with difficult clients and sensitive cases.
The second piece of advice is to get involved. Activism is at an all-time high at the moment and there are so many organisations that you can get involved with such as Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow, FreeBar, Freehold, the Black Barristers Network that is just to name a few. If you want to see change, make it happen.
Thirdly, do your research when applying to chambers. This applies to everyone who's applying to pupilage regardless of how you identify but especially to those who identify as LGBT+. Many chambers have made great strides in improving visible inclusivity but these can often be in subtle ways such as a post on twitter or Linkedin for Pride or LGBT+ history month, flying a flag during pride or a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is for applicants to look out for these things and dig around on Chambers websites in order to satisfy yourself that the sets you are applying to are committed to improving diversity and are places you would enjoy spending your professional career. Hopefully the FreeBar charter will make this process a little easier in the future.